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The colonization of America by settlers from Europe (England, in particular) was a complex and lengthy process that spanned many different periods and stages. The focus of this essay is the initial period that can be characterized by the first encounters between the newcomers and the native population of the continent. This stage of communication between the two parties was mainly based on the exchange of values, rules, and worldviews and did not pass without occasional conflict provoked by either side.
From a modern perspective, the first encounters between the Native American peoples and the European settlers are elements of old history, to be studied through the omission of smaller details deemed less significant than the bigger and more prominent events. However, a closer look at the interactions between the natives and the newcomers that occurred during the initial stages of colonization sheds light on the challenges the two sides faced in attempting to find ways to handle their drastic cultural differences (Quitt 228). The fact that the native population was, for the most part, illiterate and nowhere near to inventing anything like the advanced technologies of the settlers made the latter believe that their culture was superior and thus possessed the right to conquer the “primitive” indigenous peoples and take over the American lands as their new territories.
Even though both parties were open to an exchange of knowledge and becoming acquainted with each other’s cultures, the colonizers behaved in a more dominant manner aimed at encouraging the native population to assimilate and accept European values, ways of life, and religion (Quitt 229). It is possible that the settlers’ mentality was similar to that of modern historians who still refer to America as the “New World” (Merrell 538). In particular, this perspective views the continent as merely a newly discovered land; however, it was only like that from the standpoint of the colonizers. For the natives, the land the Europeans called America had been their home for many centuries (Foner 3). Naturally, the newcomers’ attempts to dictate lifestyle and values alien to the indigenous peoples were met with hostility and rejection.
The imbalance of powers
Under the heavy influence of the new trends, tendencies, and technologies brought by the newcomers, the Native Americans were forced to change as their culture was gradually smothered by the more powerful and persistent intruders. First of all, the settlers brought diseases new to the native peoples and to which they had no immunity; as a result, many of the natives were eradicated by the epidemics that broke out at the time of the initial encounters (Merrell 538). Second, in attempting to trade with the newcomers and obtain the goods they brought from Europe, the natives lost their territories and began to relocate, sharing their lands with the settlers (Merrell 538). The day-to-day life of the natives underwent multiple changes that made it clear that new strategies for co-existence were needed in order to preserve their culture without engaging in armed conflict.
In conclusion, the first contact between the settlers and the natives of North America was dominated by the attempts of the two parties to get to know each other’s cultures. The interactions between the sides showed that the newcomers represented a more powerful force and could take over the American lands, establishing a new world. The natives, as the weaker party, had no choice but to adjust to the conditions forced on them by the settlers.
Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! 4th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.
Merrell, James H. “The Indians’ New World: The Catawba Experience.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, vol. 41, no. 4, 1984, pp. 537-565.
Quitt, Martin H. “Trade and Acculturation at Jamestown, 1607-1609: The Limits of Understanding.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 2, 1995, pp. 227-258.